Given the UAE’s successful handling of coronavirus – with the number of positive cases dropping to less than a hundred this week for the first time since March 2020 – and the recent expat-friendly initiatives taken in Dubai, it is no surprise that the country has been voted the fourth best for expats to live
Given the UAE’s successful handling of coronavirus – with the number of positive cases dropping to less than a hundred this week for the first time since March 2020 – and the recent expat-friendly initiatives taken in Dubai, it is no surprise that the country has been voted the fourth best for expats to live and work in on HSBC’s 14th annual Expat Explorer survey, according to Daniel Robinson, head of Wealth and Personal Banking, HSBC UAE.
The vast majority of expats surveyed in the UAE (82 percent) feel optimistic that life will be more stable and normal again in the next 12 months despite the pandemic, above the 75 percent global average, with 53 percent of UAE respondents also expecting an increase in their income and a better work-life balance (57 percent).
In a wide-reaching interview with Arabian Business, Robinson delves into the survey results commenting on possible reasons behind the UAE jumping up ten places from last year’s survey. He also talks about HSBC’s economic outlook and plans in the UAE, as the bank celebrates its 75th year of operation in the country.
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Expat Explorer surveyed 20,000 respondents across 40 markets.
What do you think are the reasons behind the survey results?
There’s three main reasons that really jump out from the data: the fact that people see a good earning opportunity, the fact that they see a good career opportunity and one is around the quality of life.
On that point, 60 percent of expats said they plan to stay here longer than they originally planned, while 80 percent of them are recognising the value of it to their children in terms of the diversity they are exposed to.
Likely because of what we have experienced during Covid-19, 86 percent reflect that where they are living now here in the UAE is better than their domestic home country.
All of these factors combined are what contributed so heavily to this uplift [in UAE’s positioning], that optimism that is felt here relative to other countries around the globe.
Daniel Robinson, head of Wealth and Personal Banking, HSBC UAE.
How did the recent “expat-friendly” initiatives the government took help in the results?
I think there’s some credit to be served pre-Covid, in terms of the infrastructural elements and the strength of the market itself, and how it performed going into Covid.
Certainly, their response has been incredible. That includes everything from the vaccination program to the medical support throughout Covid, the digitisation and e-commerce in the market which allowed for everyone to carry on living even when we were in lockdown. This has really accelerated how people have emerged from the pandemic.
The federal support that was given to new policies, citizenship, visas, company ownership etc., have been huge contributing factors.
But it’s also the day-to-day elements such as the ability to shift everything, from paying DEWA to RTA services, to e-commerce, overnight and to have access to all those services, have proved to be huge positive factors in the way people live.
I was speaking with 300 mortgage agents across the UAE the other day and learned that – contrary to the trend where 80 percent of property purchased in the UAE is typically investment-led – today, 80 percent of the property purchased is lifestyle-led, meaning for people to move in them as their homes. This really demonstrates the deeper roots that people are setting up here and is the outcome of the effectiveness of all of that policy change or federal support that’s been coming in over the last four months.
What economic opportunities do you believe the survey results allude to?
The policy change around company ownership coupled beautifully with a market that is already known to be a hub of innovation and digitisation.
What the company ownership does is it gives new markets the chance to come in and set up sunrise segments (sectors that are growing rapidly and are expected to be the mainstays of the economy in the future) within the UAE. It gives a deeper diversification of that employee group, which gives the UAE strength to the number of people that can work here more sustainably.
We then couple that with the citizenship and visa changes for people with professional skills and what you’re seeing is a cementing of what we knew was possible here – meaning more people coming in with high professional standards and earning brackets who therefore have the ability to stay here longer, buy property, live here with their children and family, and it goes on.
And whether Covid is a catalyst or not, I don’t know. But the system itself has gone through a rapid growth over the last few months, maybe not in the data because we’ve been in Covid, but certainly in its ability and capability to function as one of the global leaders.
What is HSBC UAE’s economic outlook for the remainder of the year and early next year?
It has been well publicised that GDP has gone negative 6 percent in 2020 but the forecast broadly is that it’s going to be 3 percent positive this year, and 3.5 percent positive in 2022. In itself, those numbers might not sound huge, but that level of growth and stabilisation is probably the strongest we’ve seen since 2015 so, for the market, that’s a positive rebound.
The vast majority of expats surveyed in the UAE (82 percent) feel optimistic.
I think that really is underpinned by a few things that started to emerge. One of those areas is what we already talked about in terms of the government’s response to Covid in which the country showed defence, strength and growth, in that order.
What are HSBC UAE’s mid-term plans and strategy?
As a group, we see the same level of ambition as the market sees and we have two key areas we will be focusing on.
Over 90 percent of our customers today are international expats and actually one of our global strategy points is to grow our international customer base. We are now doubling down on ensuring that we can do the same over the next three-to-four years so we will have a real focus on continuously providing functionality and services, either through mobile or on the ground, to enable customers here in the UAE to be internationally-minded and meet their international needs.
The second part around that is very specifically on wealth. There’s a huge opportunity here as we have more high net worth clients, more professionals and more people living here for longer and we need to help those customers grow, invest, plan for their futures and meet their dreams.
What that means is we will double, or aim to double, the assets that we hold for our customers and wealth over the next three years.
This year we’re celebrating 75 years in the UAE and we’re looking back at some of what we did here in the country including funding some of the first hospitals, the first telecommunications companies, the first construction companies, hiring the first female bank employee, the first ATM.